Apple AirPods Max - New Over-Ear Headphones from Apple

Not looking to argue, either—I just read this as Nilay being Nilay. I’ve read and heard enough of him to think this is just his typical style. I don’t think he’s implying a judgement on relative performance, just relative price. He thinks that the features/design are similar enough that a $200 price premium is staggering.

Both readings are reasonable, though.

(Edit: Just noticed your username, @Tchoupitoulas, props for that.)

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Just got mine and got about 20 minutes of listening. Without having compared directly, I think audio quality is a big step up from AirPods Pro, and NC is improved as well. I haven’t owned the Sony XM3 in about six months so I have to go on memory, but I think the Max is competitive on NC, and a clear improvement in sound quality. The tuning of the Max is much more neutral, and they sound more natural and detailed.

Comfort-wise, everything feels great about them except the weight. The headband does a great job of distributing and mitigating it, so the headphones don’t feel like they’re pressing on you, but you can feel that your head is heavier.

As a replacement/upgrade for the XM3, I think I’ll be very happy with these. For me, the design, iOS integration, and sound quality are worth the price premium over the XM3, but that won’t be true for everyone. No flaws jumped out at me, and the biggest limitation of these in terms of sound quality may be at the Bluetooth codec level. I guess I’m going to have to buy that $35 cable and hear them wired, too.

I need to do some direct comparisons to other headphones I have around and see if I can figure out their limitations/flaws, but so far I’m pleased.

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Sweet. It’s sounds like a win for sure. :+1:t4:

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I swung by and picked my set up this morning. Had a few hours to listen with them and do some basic comparisons with the WH-1000XM3*.

I’m not going to be doing a full review of these (nor probably of any other headphones for that matter), maybe not even full-blown impressions, but I’ll throw out my initial thoughts and may follow up with proper measurements using my new measurement rig.

Sound:

At default settings, straight out of the box, they’re really not that much different to the Sony WH-1000XM3. Too much bass (so, basically, a Harmon-like consumer-bass tuning), a bit muddy as a result, but with better speed, impact and detail and much better staging/sense of space.

But … if you set them up PROPERLY … they’re a different story …

And in this case, “properly” means going into Settings | Accessibility | Audio/Visual and enabling “Headphone Accommodations” (and go through the whole process, which takes a couple of minutes).

After which, they’re MUCH more even handed in their delivery. Actually results will vary here depending on what selections you make as to the which samples you prefer, but after I went through the process they’re a much closer to neutral, if still with a little extra low-end heft. The initial “V” shaped signature shallows significantly, and while still not a true-neutral, is vastly more listenable for me than at default settings. Mids, and vocals in particular, take their proper place in the mix and overall balance is more in line with some of the warmer audiophile options.

Since this is an Apple-specific capability, getting the best of them will require some EQ on other platforms. A shame, because it is clear they’re more technically capable, resolving and natural when appropriately adjusted.

Comfort:

Excellent.

I like the feel of the pads on my skin of the Sony’s a little more (they’re smoother), but the AirPods Max breathe much better, and the pads are actually replaceable ($69/set). The Sony’s pads can be removed, but you can’t buy replacements, so it’s either a warranty job when they peel/flake/tear or new cans time.

The ear-cups are larger, particularly internally, on the Apple unit. With the WH-1000XM3 my ears just touch the insides of the cups at times. Not the case with the AirPods Max.

I am not really noticing the “weight”. Probably because I am used to more serious headphones, and >90% of mine are heavier than these. If this really is an issue for you, and you don’t have some kind of neck trauma, you might want to consider reducing your soy intake …

Slightly more clamp than the Sony’s, but not especially noticeable … especially not compared to common Sennheiser’s.

Case:

The “case” is a bit pointless. It does protect the ear-cups/drivers - though probably more from scratches/punctures than anything. But the headband is completely exposed, and I imagine the mesh is going to catch and snag on anything and everything if tossed into a backup for travel.

I imagine some enterprising third-party will be along shortly with a case that properly encloses the whole setup, and no doubt Apple will offer their own option (no doubt at a much higher price), but as-is the case is a miss.

Size/Travel:

The Apple set occupy less volume than the Sony’s, as they’re quite a bit thinner when laid flat. But they take up a fair bit more area. The bigger problem is the case, and there the Sony are way ahead. Which is a shame, because the Apple set seem to offer better NC, comfort and sound … which doesn’t do you much good if you can’t wedge them in your pack due to a poor case/odd ergonomics.

ANC:

These edge out the WH-1000XM3. They’re comparable … i.e. at least as good, maybe a hair better, at lower frequencies, but the AirPods Max do a noticeably better job of shutting out people talking (a traditional weak point for NC systems) and higher frequencies.

Build:

The Sony’s (and the Bose options) feel like toys in comparison. Proper replaceable ear-pads. Published process for battery replacement. Metal where it counts. No creaks etc. Very solid feeling.

Call Quality:

Much better than the Sony’s … especially for the person on the other end of the line. Microphones were, for me, not great on the Sony’s vs. even standard AirPods.


*I tried the WH-1000XM4 at launch, but couldn’t hear any difference vs. the 3 when listening to music, and the 4 had issues on calls, so I stuck with the 3.

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Thanks for taking the time to share these brief but useful impressions Ian. Any comments on battery life? On par with the XM3, better or worse? Thanks

By the way, the Space Gray look classy, I like them a lot!

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After having tested the Apple Airpods Max on a number on both a recent Macbook and on an iPhone 11, I can conclusively say that the below frequency response behavior is accurate. The iOS ‘Headphone Accommodation’ settings can be used to boost the mids, but the ‘Adaptive EQ’ functionality built into the headphone is always on, and is meant to ensure a consistent frequency response regardless of coupling variation.

For reference this is the Airpods Max frequency response with BT and ANC on, on the GRAS 43AG-7:

Update - this headphones is very difficult to measure because it seems to have two different behavior types for the bass response depending on coupling and pressure.

Behavior 1 (moderate clamp):

Behavior 2 (severe clamp):

These results seem to be repeatable as well. At this point I’m confident that second of these two behaviors is accurate for how I hear it. It may be the case that this other behavior is just the result of adaptive EQ producing a weird result on the test rig, and that when it’s coupled to the side of the head, this just compensates for leakage (wearing glasses, or a poor fit).

Airpods Max using the 3.5mm wired adapter ($35):

We can expect the wired connection to sound about the same as when using BT. There’s some minor differences in the treble, notably a more prominent 9khz peak, and less crazy ‘air’ presence in the upper treble. I don’t expect this to sound all that different, and remember that upper treble information on 711 couplers isn’t as accurate - in part because of how significant positional variance is as well.

Channel matching:

Distortion characteristics:


Wired and wireless distortion looks pretty similar as well. Both generally not high enough for anything to be audible (maybe in the bass? but it’s fine). Interesting to note though the 3rd harmonic distortion behavior in the lower mids.

After testing this on modern Apple devices (iPhone 11 Max and recent MacBook), the frequency response behavior was identical to the way it behaves on other devices. This has been corroborated by Crinacle as well. What does change the tuning is Apple’s built-in presets on modern iOS devices. More testing to follow.

Update:
So I was finally able to measure the preset differences using in-ear mics and the methodology outlined in the long post below - just using in-ear mics instead of the GRAS rig. From this testing, it looks like the presets may be part of the adaptive EQ, and so when wearing the headphone and measuring with in-ear mics, we can get a sense of it. This is because the coupling position doesn’t change, and it’s also a realistic use situation.

These cannot be compared with measurements done on the GRAS rig unless we’re only evaluating pinna effects exclusively.

Here is the Vocal Range preset with the delta applied to the existing measurement - This is approximated data, so not 100% accurate, but it’s as good as it gets with this device. It’s also worth noting (as explained below) that there’s a possibility the vocal range preset increases ear gain by a more significant amount, but since I’m unable to measure at my own ear drum reference point, additional gain factors that could potentially influence the actual effects of this are absent:

There is a downside to reading these graphs though. Remember this image?

image

Really all we’re able to evaluate with the preset measurement is how the preset differences show up with respect to the effects of (3) Concha, and (4) Pinna flange. So there may be additional effects that don’t show up here, simply because it doesn’t include the ear canal and drum effects - which are more significant than (3) and (4).

By and large, at the very least we can expect a 2-3dB difference for the various presets at different points. Perceptively it also sounds like it’s at minimum a 2-3dB difference, potentially more. But the trend seems to be similar to what shows up in the graph.

I have no idea what’s going on with the 3rd harmonic distortion in the mids but again I don’t think that’ll be significant to the experience. Potentially this is the result of adaptive EQ, or whatever DSP is being used to correct for the acoustic limitations in general of such a device.

Some comments on comparisons with other ANC headphones:

ANC Attenuation: Bose 700 > APM > XM4 (XM4 and APM have worse high frequency attenuation than Bose 700) > PXC 550 ii
ANC Noise Floor: Bose 700 > APM = XM4 = PXC 550 ii
Tuning (default): Bose 700 = APM (depends on preference but they’re both ‘decent’) > PXC 550 ii >>>>>> XM4
Technical performance: PXC 550 ii (detail) > Bose 700 > APM = XM4
Feature integration and ease of use: XM4 >= APM (depending on ecosystem and what you’re doing) > Bose 700 > PXC 550 ii
Movie watching: APM >>>> the rest for compatible content, otherwise about equal.

Live stream with Crin and Tyler on the APM:

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I wonder if you’ll be able to used the advanced processors with your measurements rig, seeing as how that’s what’s intended for use?

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This is the question. I should note, I did about 8 different sweeps, and two of them were outliers (looked REALLY weird). Normally I’d expect this to be just due to seal/position variation, but because of how unique this device is I wonder if that was part of it.

Still, this result was the most common one I got.

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It looks like an Audeze and a Beats had a baby.

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Exactly what it sounds like hahah

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I’m a bit disappointed by the reported sound but these may be perfect for my wife. She uses a pair of Sony WH-H900N (similar to WH-1000XM3) for long Facetime calls but complains that her ears get hot and she can’t use in ear phones.

Any additional impressions on how well the Apple Airpods Max breathe is appreciated.

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So I should note that as Torq said, the tuning here will be different depending on if you’re able to go through the setup process with an apple device. We’ll be doing that soon, and then getting another measurement.

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If you can measure it after setup, I think that would be a fairer measurement since that is the intended use. I hope it works out, I’d love to see ‘true’ measurements for these (with all of their tech enabled). :+1:t4:

Thanks Andrew.

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Yup, I’m going to spend the next few days doing additional measurements in different situations. My other worry is that there may be an impact on coupling due to the vertical nature of the rig on the desk.

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:heart: Everyone loves you for THAT :heart: :100:

I don’t know anyone who likes “to measure” like YOU do :+1: :hugs: :grinning:

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There’s a lightning to 3.5mm connector…what about a lightning to lightning?..seems like a missed opportunity.

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Which headphones are these, I missed it. Whoops, read AirPods thought it was AirPods, nvm lol

Has anyone checked out the M&D MW65. Kind of intrigued that they use beryllium drivers on those headphones, but they are probably up at the top of most expensive wireless headphones. These are 50 dollars more expensive than MW65.

Also really curious how Grado GW100.

Aren’t these basic upgraded beats? Makes it kind of skeptical.

I need a pair of wireless, wasn’t able to decide. Kind of moved away from Grado only cause they are open back, seems more like a indoor use set

Nice. How were they connected during the tests? From several youtube reviews, it seems like the airpod max’s sound improves when connected to an iphone vs a macbook. Is this true or is this more related to what @torq mentioned regarding the extra settings?

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This was just with Bluetooth and ANC on. I still have to test it with an apple device.

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/canjam_on/

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